There are currently more than 830,000 people on waiting lists for hospital treatments and appointments, with delays likely to increase as hospitals suspend non-urgent services to cope with the current Covid-19 surge.
At the end of December there were 606,230 patients waiting for outpatient hospital consultations up by more than 50,000 since the start of 2020, according to latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).
An outpatient department treats people with health problems who visit the hospital for diagnosis or treatment, but do not require a bed or to be admitted for overnight care.
Some 72,475 patients were waiting for inpatient or day case treatment, with a further 32,539 patients waiting for an appointment for a GI Endoscopy.
In total, there were 838,675 people on hospital waiting lists at the end of last year. The waiting list figures, published on Friday, have increased over the course of last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Alan Irvine, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said the waiting lists "will only likely worsen in the short-term as a result of the current Covid-19 surge."
At present the acute hospital system is under major strain dealing with large numbers of Covid-19 patients following a huge spike in the spread of the virus in the last month.
There are currently 1,850 Covid-19 patients in hospitals, with 184 of those in intensive care, leading hospitals to curtail other services.
“The impact of the current surge and the unavoidable requirement to delay non-urgent care appointments will be particularly felt in the second half of the year,” Prof Irvine said.
The head of the consultants representative group said it would be some time before hospitals “can return to anything like normal.”
Commenting on the latest waiting list figures, Prof Irvine said “it is difficult in the grip of the current crisis to forward plan but we simply must.”
“We are now playing catch-up in 2021. Our ability to do so hinges on a range of factors, from crushing the curve and vaccination rollout, but crucially too an ability to forward plan,” he said.
“As we wade through the debris left by the current surge, a re-set in healthcare planning will now be necessary if our healthcare system is to sustain through the second half of 2021.”
The NTPF data shows that 18,759 patients have been given a date for an inpatient, or day case appointment, or Endoscopy procedure.
Some 89,407 patients are listed in the planned procedure category, with 63,590 of these given indicative dates for appointments.
Hospital waiting lists increased sharply last year due to a backlog that built up following the cancellation of all non-urgent hospital care during the first national lockdown.